Poachers Get Stiff Sentences in Custer County, Idaho

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Four men were jailed and fined thousands of dollars Monday, February 6, in Custer County after pleading guilty to charges stemming from an investigation into illegal hunting activity in the Yankee Fork drainage.

A fifth man was sentenced in January. Two others were warned.

Jailed and fined were Juan Pasillas-Garcia, 44, of Hailey; Sergio Pasillas-Garcia, 39, and Bernardo Amaya, 38, both of Phoenix; and Martin Pasillas-Garcia, 45, of Torrence, Calif.

Jose Pasillas-Garcia, 30, of Hailey, had his jail sentenced suspended.
The sentences were some of the most severe for wildlife crimes that the state of Idaho has seen in a case that began on October 14, when an Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer watched two hunters leave their truck and hike up the mountain.

"I hid in the brush and ended up waiting nine hours for them to return," Regional Investigator Ryan Hilton said. "It was a long, cold day, but by being out there I was able to hear the shots that we later confirmed illegally killed a six-point bull elk closed season and also took a video of them loading an illegal deer into their truck."

Hilton was among Idaho Fish and Game conservation officers who had been investigating suspicious activities of two local men, two Arizona residents and one California resident, after receiving tips regarding the groups' taking over-limits of deer and elk and hunting while the season was closed.

"We set up a camp in the same drainage to track their activities and either dispel or confirm the allegations," Conservation Officer Andy Smith said.

Dressed like other hunters and carrying rifles of their own, the conservation officers followed the group around the clock for nearly a week listening for gunshots and documenting deer and elk being transported by the hunters.

The officers spent little time sleeping during the investigation because of the possibility of missing something.

"We suspected that they were transporting the animals to Hailey at night so we took turns sleeping so one of us could always be watching their camp," Smith said.

Their persistence paid off. On the morning of October 15, the opening day of elk season, the suspects transported a six-point bull elk off the mountain from the location where Hilton had heard shots the day before.

After the suspects left the area, Smith and Sorensen headed up the mountain.

"We knew our chances were slim, but we had to find where the elk had been killed and verify that it was killed before the season had opened," Smith said. A few hours later in a soaking rain storm they discovered that the individuals had done what they suspected.

Knowing that the group had an elk that had been killed before the season had opened; officers secured search warrants for the camp and vehicles. Officers from the Jerome and Salmon regions served warrants in the Yankee Fork drainage and on a vehicle near Hailey. The illegal elk and four illegal mule deer bucks were recovered.

From there, the scope of the investigation grew as the officers realized that most of the hunters involved were nonresidents that had been using their brothers' address in Hailey to claim residency and illegally purchasing resident hunting licenses and tags. Some of the individuals had been doing this since 2001.

The officers issued a combined 49 citations and 21 warnings to seven individuals.

On Monday, February 6, Custer County Magistrate Judge Charles L. Roos sentenced the five men to a total of 2,910 days of jail time. Four of them were ordered to serve 200 days; the fifth had his jail time suspended. The total fines amounted to $25,223. One life time revocation of hunting, fishing, and trapping was handed down with 65 years of hunting, fishing, and trapping split among the other four:

Sergio Pasillas-Garcia pleaded guilty to 10 charges, including unlawfully taking two or more big game animals within a twelve month period, taking big game in a closed season, exceeding the big game bag limit, failing to produce game for inspection upon request, and six counts of purchase or possession of the wrong class of license/tag.

Sergio Pasillas-Garcia killed a 6X6 bull elk in the Sawtooth elk zone the night before the elk season opened in that zone. The elk was tagged by Juan Pasillas-Garcia using a Salmon zone tag, not valid in the Sawtooth zone. Sergio Pasillas-Garcia was not a legal resident of Idaho but had purchased resident tags and licenses since 2001. He also unlawfully killed two mule deer bucks, one of which was tagged by another member of the hunting party.

Sergio Pasillas-Garcia was sentenced to 900 days in jail, with 860 of those suspended and ordered to serve 10 days immediately and 10 days a year starting October 1 for the next three years. He also lost his hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges for life and was ordered to pay $8271.75 in fines and restitution. He was placed on four years probation, during which time he may not accompany anyone hunting, fishing or trapping.

Martin Pasillas-Garcia, pleaded guilty to 10 charges, including failure to tag big game, using tag of another, failure to produce game for inspection upon request, and seven counts of purchase or possession of the wrong class of license and tag. He had hunted illegally in Idaho using resident tags for eight years. He killed a mule deer buck and tagged it with another hunter's tag.

He was sentenced to 900 days in jail and ordered to serve 80 of those days, 10 days to be served immediately and 10 days a year starting October 1 for the next seven years. He was ordered to pay $8,562 in fines and restitution. He lost his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for 30 years as well as forfeiting his firearm to the Fish and Game. He was placed on eight years probation, during which time he may not accompany anyone hunting, fishing or trapping.

Bernardo Amaya pleaded guilty to two counts of possession-transportation of game taken unlawfully, and four counts of possession or purchase of the wrong class of license and tag. Amaya killed a deer on the opening day of deer season. He tagged the deer and then transported it to a residence, took the tag off and returned to camp to put the tag on another deer killed by Sergio Pasillas-Garcia. Amaya illegally purchased Idaho resident licenses and tags for three years.

He was sentenced to 540 days jail and ordered to serve 40 days, 10 days immediately and 10 days a year starting October 1 for the next three years. He was ordered to pay $4556.75 in fines and restitution. Amaya lost his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for 18 years. He was placed on four years probation, during which time he may not accompany anyone hunting, fishing or trapping.

Juan Pasillas-Garcia pleaded guilty to six charges, including two counts of using the tag of another, failure to produce game for inspection, criminal conspiracy, possession of improperly tagged wildlife and possession of big game taken unlawfully. He tagged a 6x6 bull elk killed by Sergio Pasillas-Garcia in the Sawtooth elk zone before the season opened with a Salmon zone tag. Juan Pasillas-Garcia also tagged a deer killed by Martin Pasillas-Garcia.

He stored the untagged deer killed by Bernardo Amaya at his residence.
Juan Pasillas-Garcia was sentenced to 540 days jail and ordered to serve 40 days, 10 days immediately and 10 days each year starting October 1 for the next three years. He was ordered to pay $3262 in fines and restitution. His hunting, fishing and trapping privileges were revoked for 15 years, and he forfeited two firearms to the Fish and Game. He was placed on four years probation, during which time he may not accompany anyone hunting, fishing or trapping.

Jose Pasillas-Garcia pleaded guilty in January to failing to produce game for inspection. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail with 30 days suspended. He was fined $570 and sentenced to two years probation, 40 hours community service, and he lost his hunting privileges for two years. During his probation he may not be in the field with anyone that is hunting.

In addition, warnings were issued to Salvador Garcia, 42, of Inglewood, Calif., for failing to produce game animals for inspection and for possession of game taken unlawfully; and to Alejandro Pasillas-Garcia, 28, of Caillou, Agua Caliente, Mexico, for possession of game taken unlawfully.

For information call Regional Conservation Officer David Silcock at the Salmon Region Fish and Game office at 208-756-2271.